Review: COME FROM AWAY (North American Tour)

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by Tony Frankel on November 29, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours

A NEWFOUND(LAND) WAY
OF LOOKING AT MUSICAL THEATER

This intimate ensemble piece may only have one stand-alone song, and it may not even be the best-crafted musical or have the emotional impact it could have, but it’s a cultural blessing when a show comes along that melts away the coldness of our polarized times by presenting a hearth of heart-filled humanity. In the immediate aftershock of the 9/11 attacks, 38 international flights with approximately 7,000 passengers and personnel on board were forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland, which at the time had a population of about 9,000. This is the true tale of the princely, welcoming Canadians who housed and fed the stranded strangers — “plane people” — for five days, an act that made news at a time when terrorism and death and smoke and ash was the only thing on TV. (And, frankly, not much has changed in that department since 2001; it’s time already to permanently turn off the nightly news.)

With book, music and lyrics by married couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein — Torontonians themselves — Come from Away truly embodies the spirit of Canada’s denizens as I’ve come to know them: Generous, authentically nice people with little sense of entitlement. Under Christopher Ashley’s seamlessly fluid direction on Beowulf Boritt’s minimal set, there are many stories crisscrossing each other as 12 adaptable thespians portray dozens of folks — both homebound and dispossessed — with the switch of an accent or a hat (the quick-change costumes are by Toni-Leslie James).

Given the context of 9/11, it’s ironic that little seems high-risk here; the potential for very significant gains or losses in the brisk intermissionless 100 minutes is negligible. Having that may have helped to make this a more sophisticated and impactful musical — one which could have left us shattered — but that’s not what the creators were going for, they simply wanted to give voice to the good in the world at a time of inconsolable grief.

This is why you won’t see those horrifying moments when people realize that the world has changed forever. Instead, you’ll see, for example, a middle-aged British man and Texas woman kindle a romance, and a raucous night of initiation at a Gander bar, where the guests are pressed to kiss a cod and then take in a local rum-like concoction known as “screech.”

A most refreshing aspect is that we can watch a show rich in diverse characters, instead of going to revivals which have diversity forced into them regardless of believability. Thus, the cast is varied in age, body type, and race because it is fundamental for this story. Among the roles are a novice reporter, a gay couple named Kevin and Kevin, a cynical New Yorker, an animal-rights activist, the brusque Gander mayor, and a tough-minded veteran female pilot.

As with Dear Evan Hansen, it is the dialogue that does the yeoman’s work here; taken from interviews conducted by Sankoff & Hein, it is neither affected nor forced, and sometimes very funny (the interview aspect is reminiscent of The Laramie Project). As for the score, forget hummable tunes and expect only one true song. Even so, the music is either tremendously melancholic and attractive or rhythmically catchy and spirited, even serving as a background to the dialogue. The score is an amalgam of Broadway, pop and folk, with a countrified feel rich in Celtic sounds played with élan by a six-member onstage band. The terrific orchestrations by August Eriksmoen include fiddle, tin whistle (an Irish flute), accordion, and bodhrán (a handheld, shallow Irish drum).

As the world becomes more crowded, divided, and ill-mannered, Come from Away is a lovely reminder of how good it feels to be accepted and embraced. Just holding the door open for someone, or using your damned turn signal, may be the beginning of the revolution we’re all ultimately seeking: when the human race becomes the humane race.

photos by Matthew Murphy

Cast: Kevin Carolan, Harter Clingman, Nick Duckart, Chamblee Ferguson, Becky Gulsvig, Julie Johnson, Christine Toy Johnson, James Earl Jones II, Megan McGinnis, Andrew Samonsky, Danielle K. Thomas, and Emily Walton.

Come from Away
first North American tour
reviewed at Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave.
ends on January 6, 2019 in Los Angeles
for tickets ($30-$135), call 213.972.4400 or visit CTG

TOUR CONTINUES THROUGH SEPT. 2019 (or longer)
for dates and cities, visit Come from Away

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Joan A November 29, 2018 at 3:12 pm

Come From Away definitely makes you think, especially given what is going on in the world today, with millions of immigrants trying to escape the horrors of their respective countries and being denied entry by many xenophobic nations, including ours.

I heard some people call this a feel good musical, and after seeing it here in L.A., it’s not hard to understand why. For me however — and I’m sure I am in the minority — I just felt the play lacked depth and that the musical numbers were quite unremarkable. It just didn’t move me in the same way it seemed to move everyone else in the audience.

The characters all blended into one another and were hard to distinguish. None of them stood out even though the large terrific cast including Megan McGinnis and James Earl Jones II.

I agree with this review: In the end, this musical is indeed about hope, perseverance and people coming together to help each other in difficult times, and that’s what the people of Gander and the surrounding towns did, so bravo to them.

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